|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Virtual Toys||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Codemaster||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: April 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Cole Smith
Rafa Nadal Tennis exploits the DS's stylus controller in theory, but the actual results are less than favorable. Reading the previews and the propaganda on the box, this seems like the next best thing to the Wii's remote. But it ain't - not by a long shot - pardon the pun.
Using the stylus to hit the ball and move your character around may sound intriguing, but after hours and hours of meticulous practice, and trial and error, I was unable to come to terms with the control system. Thankfully the D-pad came to the rescue. It can be used as a substitute control system for the stylus. Without the use of a proper functioning stylus-controlled game, Rafa Nadal Tennis is just another run-of-the-mill tennis game.
To add to the overall generic presentation of the game, the only licensed tennis pro to make an appearance is Rafa. There are other pros in the game, but they are entirely fictitious. They do offer quite a challenge later in the Career mode, so if you can live without real-world players, and you absolutely must have a tennis game, but you don't have a PSP on which to play Virtual Tennis, then read on.
Using the stylus to direct your shot is where the game begins to fall apart. Powering up your shot is done by holding the stylus down until the desired power is reached. To direct the shot, you must slash the stylus on the screen in the intended direction. It's very unforgiving, making it virtually uncontrollable. If you make your slash a centimeter too long, you'll go wide. If you make the slash too short, you might not get deep enough in the court. We're talking about fractions of a fraction of an inch here. It's virtually impossible to gauge such small increments. I thought that perhaps I was over-thinking it, and tried to play by feel. This Zen-like approach works on a lot of things but this game isn't one of them.
To make things even more frustrating, when you increase the difficulty, you also increase the employment of the stylus. Not only will you have to use the stylus to hit the ball, but you have to use it to move your player around the court. On the easy setting your player will move to the center position after a hit automatically, but on the harder setting you will have to indicate your player's position by tapping on the screen and then slashing the stylus immediately afterwards. It just doesn't feel natural at all, and it's not something that you even want to get better at.
If you want to play this game with any degree of control, throw that stylus out of court and call the D-pad up as your star witness. You'll testify. Amen.
With the D-pad, the aiming is more precise. Instantly, you've got a decent game of tennis. The face buttons act as modifiers, allowing you to add topspin, ground shots, lobs, and stroke shots. While you may not have much of a problem with the stylus at the start of the game, the only way you're going to compete against the pros is to use the D-pad.
Modes consist of tutorial, career, quick matches, doubles, and multi-player. The Tennis School practice mode is a great place to start. It will give you pointers on both control systems, and let you practice your moves and shots. In Career mode, you will take your low-ranked player around the world to compete in various tournaments. After each win you'll earn money which will be used to purchase new equipment such as rackets and tennis shoes. But the most important thing that you'll receive is experience points. These points are used to upgrade your character's skills in specific areas that you designate such as speed, smash, serve, forehand, and backhand.
There are more than 15 courts located all over the world. The surfaces vary from grass to clay and to extremely hard. You have to adjust your style of play to each surface, which adds some depth to the gameplay. As you might expect there's less bounce on the grass surface and more on the hard. The courts aren't really much to look at, and neither are the players. They animate well, except for running in which the leg action doesn't always match the distance covered. The crowds look like an oil painting, and the cheering sounds canned. The ball sound effects are good, and visually, it's easy to keep track of.
The game's best feature has to be the multiplayer mode. Up to four players can take part in doubles or singles tournaments with only one copy of the game. The gameplay mechanics are flawless. There are no slowdown or command issues, as long as you're playing with the D-pad. Just don't tell your opponents.
CCC Senior Writer